Fear The Sky – Stephen Moss
Last month, I was having trouble deciding which audiobook to listen to via my Audible subscription. Eventually, I decided that since I had enjoyed R.C. Bray’s narration of The Martian so much, I might find something else that he had narrated. This search led me to Fear The Sky, the first of three installments in the Fear Saga by Stephen Moss. And it turned out that this was another brilliant bit of sci-fi.
The story begins with a meteor entering Earth’s atmosphere and breaking into pieces, of which four enter orbit unnoticed, and eight land just off the coastlines of various countries. These contain the mechanical agents of an alien race, whose task is to infiltrate the militaries of nuclear-capable countries, and prepare for the arrival of the main armada in several years’ time. After an attempt to investigate one of the meteor fragments is violently quashed, scientists Neil Danielson and Madeleine Kavanagh are the only ones who know that the fragments were actually capsules, and that there are now alien forces present on Earth. In the knowledge that they will be killed instantly if their adversaries realise what they’re up to, they must find a way to combat this threat, before the armada arrives to wipe out humanity and claim the planet.
Most alien invasion stories that we are familiar with involve the aliens simply turning up with superior firepower, and attempting to pound humanity into submission. And while this is the eventual plan of these particular invaders, the book takes real-life astrophysics into account for the most part: the armada has a very long way to travel, and is still several years off by the time this first book ends. The aliens are clever enough to think things through – in particular, that they need to deal with our nuclear armaments, lest our inevitable attempts to defend ourselves render the planet uninhabitable – and this first stage is all about infiltration. The clear intelligence of this threat, plus its ability to tap into phone and e-mail communication, to monitor targets almost constantly, and to swiftly annihilate identified opposition, really racks up the tension: just how are the protagonists supposed to deal with this?
The intelligence of the writing itself doesn’t end there. Stephen Moss goes into a lot of well-thought-out and comprehensible detail about everything, from any fictional technology employed by both sides, to the grounded practical and political considerations that influence many of their decisions and strategies. Particularly good are any chapters that go into the heads of one of the eight machine agents: we are informed how their computer brains go through options in any situation, and perfectly judge factors and capabilities with cold efficiency. Combined with this is the fact that each agent has the personality of an individual alien overlaid into their minds, meaning that they can make intuitive judgements when necessary – and, for the purposes of the story, act as individual characters who undergo arcs of development. The characters making up the human resistance are not quite as interesting by comparison, but still diverse, sympathetic and flawed enough to carry out their roles within the plot.
The novel only has one real weakness: its length relative to the amount of story within. The audiobook is 20 hours and 16 minutes long, and when you boil the story down to its essential plot points, there are less than you would expect from something of that length. There are certainly periods where the things taking place are mostly preparatory, and it doesn’t feel like the story is moving forward in any significant way. Yet honestly, I wasn’t too bothered by this. Much of the detail and filling could probably have been cut, but I found it so interesting to listen to that it hardly mattered.
Fear The Sky is strongly recommended for any fans of sci-fi, and I’m looking forward to listening to the next two installments. Rating: 4.5/5.